While researching my wife’s ancestry last evening, she and I stumbled upon a great and tragic story. I will tell it with the best of my knowledge.
Edward, or Ted as he preferred to be referred to, was a typical 17 year old kid. Ted dreamed of defending his country, and that is exactly what he did when he enlisted to fight in the Royal Newfoundland regiment.
Ted felt as if he had to go, as his family were going through hard times, thanks to his father’s failing eyesight and the other 8 kids who remained at home. Ted promised his mom that he would send home every cent he made, so that she could feed the family until times got better.
Ted wasn’t the biggest, standing at just 5’3 and weighing just over 70 pounds, but he had a fight in him, probably due to growing up in hard times in Western Newfoundland.
On the 28th day of January, 1915, Ted was assigned to the Special Reserves, located in St. John’s Newfoundland. When he arrived, Ted filled out an allotment agreement that 70 cents per day be taken from his pay (he received $25 per month) to send back to his mother. Not only was this young man planning on defending his country at the time of the great war, he was also providing for his family.
During his time as a soldier, Ted met the love of his life, Maud McNiven. Ted sent her numerous postcards testifying his love for her. It appears as if his love was in vain, as Maud wasn’t returning his letters. Still, he never gave up. Perhaps Maud was the one thing that kept this young man going when times got tough.
“Dearest, Just a few cards of the ship we are leaving by. We left Aldershot nine o’clock last night. I am going to try and get someone from the shore to post these for me, we are not allowed ashore. I did not get a letter from you before leaving. Believe me to be yours. xxxxxx Faithfully, Ted”
Ted’ best friend and comrade Will McNiven worried about his sister Maud as well, as neither he nor Ted heard from her since they set out for France.
Back home, the family struggled, Edward Sr. and his wife Selina worked hard to care for their children. Edward’s eyesight was failing, to the point that he could no longer fish. The only money coming into the household was the small amount of money sent home by their son Ted.
One disastrous day, a telegram arrived in the name of Selina Ayers. It was sent to her by Col. Bennett, Colonial Secretary. The telegram was dated July 31, 1916.
“We regret to inform you that the Record Office, London, officially reports No. 1009 Lance Corporal Edward A. Ayre as missing.
Upon receipt of further information, I shall immediately wire you.
J.R. Bennett Colonial Secretary.
According to history, 243 Soldiers lost their life on that fateful day.
Devastated with the grim news, Selina Ayre wrote the Prime Minister of England in hopes of collecting the money that was entitled to her. As per Edward A. Ayre’s will, he left his family a total of $639, which was all the money he had saved. She only received $89.83, which she fought.
Mrs. Ayre’s letter outlined the struggles of raising a family during war time.
“Mr. Randall, Dear Sir.
I want to tell you how much the Tory Government helped me when I lost my son L. Corporal Edward Ayre 1009. He volunteered at St. John’s at age 17. He was steward on the S.S. Portia at the time of enlistment. He made his allotment to me, as he knew I was badly in need of it. He left me 70 cents for a day which I received shortly after his death. He was my major support. I am the mother of 9 children, 3 dead and 6 living.
My husband is alive but his eye sight failed him I wrote to St. John’s and asked could they help me. They did not say I was entitled to it but they said they could not help me. They asked my husband to go under medical examination and he did to my doctor Dr. Grant.
He gave him a paper he sent down to St. Johns saying that both eyes were affected, left eye badly effected. And now he can hardly see to get around. He goes in a little rowboat, so you see it is not much to keep a family for he had his eyesight gone.
There was a separation allowance given but I received none. I think you will say with me that I am entitled to it. I got nothing only the allotment that he left me and I wrote and ask them where was his first money from the time he reported missing on July the first until you reported killed in action but they didn’t say anything about it.
I lost three sons while the war was on and he was my only means of support and it is greatly hard for us to get along with a large family and a man near sighted. I was some glad when the Tories gave the returned soldiers $70 per month, some of them having a good time of it when mothers who lost their sons could put to good use but did not get any money.
Selina received a letter from the Chief Staff Officer stating that her letter has been referred to the pension board, and her application showed that her husband was 48 years of age and that he earns $450 per year. He went on to say that although they had one son at home who was just 16 years old, they rejected her request. Their justification was that despite only having partial sight in one eye, Edward Ayre Sr. was only disabled to the extent of one third his earning power. This meant that the Ayre family would receive no pension from their fallen son.
Selina Ayres received another letter. This one ensured her that despite being missing in action, they were certain that none of them are prisoners of war in Germany; therefore, the Colonial Secretary deducted that all the gallant men, whose names were given in an enclosed list, were killed in that fateful action on the first of July.
The letter went on to state that in sacrificing his life for his country, Edward A. Ayre willingly answered the call of King and Country, did his part nobly, and fell, facing the for, in defense of the principals of Righteousness, Truth and Liberty. Though Edward has laid down the earthly weapons of warfare, he now wears the Soldiers’ Crown of Victory, and his name will be inscribed upon the Glorious Roll of Honor, and be hald in fragrant memory by all his fellow countrymen. This letter was dated November 23, 1916.
Proof of the Crown of Victory reward was sent to Selina Ayre, and was witnessed by Alexander Carew, my wife’s great-grand father. He was married to Julia, who was the sister of Edward.
On June 21, 1917, it was reported that Lance Corporal E. A Ayre was buried West of ‘Y’ Ravine, West of ‘No Man’s Land’ British Front on April 1917. There was no documentation stating that his body was recovered, only that a gravesite bearing his name and rank was placed West of the Y Ravine, West of No Man’s Land.
What a tragic story. Despite the fact that his name was indeed inscribed on the war memorial, his family here on the island actually knew very little about him. It was only due to my digging through the Internet that I was able to locate any information about him.
When we happened upon his name, we were unsure whether he was actually related to the Ayre family of Channel. Only upon careful research and actually calling people currently living in Channel-Port aux Basques were we able to prove the relationship.
I am proud to say that after the research done by my wife and myself, the Carew family are now made aware of the sacrifices of a certain Edward Ayre. He won’t be forgotten again.
Royal Newfoundland Regiment Insignia – In memory of the men who served in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment during World War I and did not return home.